National Security Decision Making: Need for a Major Overhaul

India’s national security decision making apparatus and the higher defence organisation are not appropriately structured to deal effectively with the manifold threats and challenges that confront the country. Three recent examples amply highlight the incoherence in handling national security issues with foreign policy undertones.
In May 1998, India conducted five nuclear tests at Pokhran and declared itself a state armed with nuclear weapons. It later emerged that these weapons of mass destruction were not merely experimental “devices” to be tested, these were warheads from the nuclear stockpile. It transpired that India’s nuclear arsenal was held by civilian organisations – jointly by the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) and the DRDO – and not by the country’s armed forces. Also, the armed forces were not the only ones in for a rude surprise; so was Mr. George Fernandes, India’s Defence Minister, who had no prior knowledge of the impending nuclear tests.
In 1997, India had signed the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and declared at the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) that it was holding a chemical weapons stockpile. The three Chiefs of India’s armed forces learnt about this declaration from the newspapers. These dangerous weapons were held not by the armed forces, but by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO).
Ten years earlier, at the request of President JR Jayewardene, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi had sent an Indian Peace-keeping Force (IPKF) to Sri Lanka. The force had to fight the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) almost from the first day itself – an eventuality for which the IPKF was inadequately prepared in terms of its mandate, tasking and equipment. The LTTE was an organisation that had been surreptitiously armed and equipped by the R&AW to fight the Sri Lankan army. K Natwar Singh, former External Affairs Minister, said recently during an interview that Rajiv Gandhi had agreed to despatch an Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) to Sri Lanka during his discussions with President JR Jayewardene at Colombo, without first consulting his cabinet. 
In his excellent book “India’s Military Conflicts and Diplomacy: An Inside View of Decision Making”, General V. P. Malik, former COAS, has written, “The request was accepted by Rajiv Gandhi without consultation with the military chiefs.” He has described the India-Sri Lanka peace accord as a “political, diplomatic, intelligence and military miscalculation.” The Indian intervention resulted in the loss of the lives of 1,155 soldiers and failed to meet the laid down political and military objectives. According to General Malik it was a “foreign policy and national security failure… that led to the ouster of the Rajiv Gandhi government and his unfortunate assassination…” The overall handling of the military intervention was so ineffective that it still rankles in the minds of political and military leaders and casts a long shadow on capacity building and contingency planning for the future.
General Malik’s book offers an objective critique of the structures for higher defence management and the process of national security decision making in India. With his background as a Deputy Director General in the Directorate General of Military Operations with the rank of a Brigadier, later as Vice Chief and then Chief during the Kargil conflict, General Malik got a ring side view of the inter-ministerial and inter-departmental process of decision making on important security issues. In fact, he was either an active participant in the process or a first-hand observer and is, therefore, eminently qualified to record the happenings and comment on them.
In his first book “Kargil: From Surprise to Victory” (HarperCollins Publishers, New Delhi, 2006), General Malik had provided rare insights into the civil-military interface in dealing with an ongoing crisis, particularly the tone and tenor of confabulations in the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) during the Kargil conflict of 1999. In this, his second book, General Malik deals with several major strategic-level crises and analyses how well – or badly – these were handled at the apex level of decision making – with a view to identifying the shortcomings and suggesting remedial measures. 
The book examines the efficacy of the established process of decision making during crisis situations, including the impact of diplomacy on security strategy and the planning and conduct of military operations. The author has analysed the effectiveness of decision making and the efficiency of the higher-level management of Operation Pawan in Sri Lanka (1987-90); Operation Cactus in the Maldives (1988) – where he was among the first few to land; Operation Shakti, India’s nuclear tests at Pokhran (May 1998); and, Operation Khukri, the rescue mission undertaken during the UN peace-keeping operation in Sierra Leone (May 2000). All of these crises bear witness to the fact that while astute diplomacy smoothens the conduct of military operations, poor diplomacy hampers them. 
General Malik also recounts his personal experiences in military diplomacy, especially his involvement in Nepal and in reaching out to the junta in Myanmar. He comments extensively on the antiquated structures for higher defence management in India in the backdrop of India’s pacifist strategic culture. He makes substantive recommendations to improve the structures and the process for national security decision making, defence research and development, self-reliance in defence production and the improvement of civil-military relations.
It emerges clearly from General Malik’s book that the national security decision making process is fundamentally flawed and, in the absence of long-term planning, it is marked by knee jerk reactions to emerging situations – despite some efforts at reform in the recent past. Much more still needs to be done and this should be a priority for the NDA government. 
This book must be read by the political leaders involved in national security decision making, young Parliamentarians, military commanders, the defence and foreign policy bureaucracy, think tank scholars and academics and other younger members of the strategic community.